Published: May 25, 2010 11:32 AM EDT
Updated: May 25, 2010 7:00 AM EDT

On Tuesday, May 25, Mote Marine Laboratory scientists will launch an underwater robot about 15 miles from Key West to patrol for oil over the Continental Shelf north and west of the Florida Keys.

The robot, called an autonomous underwater vehicle, or AUV, looks like a yellow torpedo and is equipped with a payload that can detect oil and the chemicals used to disperse it in the water. This is the second AUV Mote will launch.

The first was deployed May 17 about 20 miles west of Venice Florida and traveled another 80 to 100 miles west-southwest to the Continental Shelf. The third is scheduled to be deployed off Southwest Florida soon to look for oil about 15 miles offshore between Tampa Bay and Charlotte Harbor.

The AUV being deployed off Key West - which is nicknamed Waldo - will patrol for about three weeks - the length of its battery life. It will gather data every few seconds and transmit the information to researchers via satellite every four hours, giving near real-time information about what's happening deeper in the water column where satellite imagery cannot go.

On May 17, Kirkpatrick sent a Rutgers University AUV out to patrol the Gulf Coast's Continental Shelf. So far, that AUV has not encountered any oil.